Net neutrality, European style

The EU has acted on the issue of net neutrality, and thankfully it has, unlike in the pyrrhic victory for it in the US, it has acted without co-opting the Internet by making it a utility. Thus it is unlikely to impede the advances of the Internet, as might possibly happen at the hands of the US government. So, unlike, Wired’s assertion that it “has learned little” from the net neutrality struggle in America, I think the ruling is spot-on.

In announcing its decision, the European Commission has sought to protect net neutrality. The argument that is has done so at the expense of perilous potholes is specious at best, and pie-in-the- sky when considering that its ruling must please 28 diverse constituencies.

The language of the decree is straightforward enough, promising “an open internet (where) users will be free to access the content of their choice, (and) they will not be unfairly blocked or slowed down anymore, and that paid prioritization will not be allowed.” Finis! Hooray, for them for not adding extraneous, cumbersome covenants and caveats. That it will allow for ’’specialized services of higher quality” is not an impediment to freedom, but a nod to innovation, in my opinion, which sadly is lacking in the US ruling.

By insisting that paid prioritization is not allowed, “but making sure that all needs are served, that all opportunities can be seized,” and that users are not overcharged for unneeded, unnecessary services, the EC has succeeded in an even-handed way – without the obvious partisan political flavor of the FCC’s decision (lovers of big government have never seen an opportunity that they can’t co-op and convert to cash!).

The article is wary about creating a system which is wide open for abuse, without acknowledging that there are remedies, legal and otherwise, if the pendulum swings too far in the wrong direction.

The US decision, while hailed for taking the power out of the hands of providers, does so at the cost of giving a government agency, the FCC, power to set rates and regulate the industry. How’s that working out in other areas so far? It may be imperceptible at first, but the result will be less innovation by the folks who brought the internet to us.

In a similar vein, the article alludes to zero rating knocking initiatives by the big, bad tech companies, such as Zuckerberg’s Facebook which, because of zero rating is able to make the Internet available to people who could otherwise not afford it.

Due to its innovation and largesse, Facebook may reap a profit at some point, and gain some competitive advantage. Hello! That’s what has driven the success of invention and innovation since time immemorial. It is exactly the topic that Europe should be addressing in assessing its lack of comparative competitiveness in the tech arena.

Users in the US will someday come to rue the net neutrality decision, in my judgment, so I think the EC is barking up the right tree. But one thing is for certain, if Europe is to increase its , it must continue to enact laws which don’t stifle progress – even if they step on a few toes in the process.

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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